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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation Epilogue In the first half of 2003, Russia’s economic performance once again exceeded the most optimistic expectations. The World Bank, 2003 The upward trend in macroeconomic indicators since the year 2000 suggests that the Russian economy has bottomed out and that slow growth in productivity will in time lead to more and better goods and services (World Bank, 2003). Oil and gas production continue to grow, and foreign debt is declining. Many salaries are higher than 5–10 years ago, and the store shelves in large urban areas bulge with electronic devices, appliances, household items, and recreational equipment produced in Russia and abroad. But in the towns with unprecedented unemployment levels and in the villages with no reliable telephones and unheated schools, there is little optimism for an improved life. Indeed, more than one-third of the nation’s population survives on incomes below the poverty level. All the while, declines in the quality of everyday diets and in health services, particularly for children, are contributing to the falling life expectancy. And Russian perceptions of life and death threats to the country are sometimes ignored by policy officials and sometimes are front and center (see Appendix L).1 1 Russia includes densely populated industrial regions with well-established scientific and economic infrastructure, production centers in sparsely populated regions, and poorly developed agricultural areas. Living standards vary widely. For a description of poverty levels, see UNDP (2003). Also see WHO (2003).
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation But despite the hardships, many Russian scientists and engineers maintain a remarkable sense of optimism. They predict a slowing of the internal brain drain that is sapping science and restoration of respect for science and scientists by Russian society, even as they toil in ill-equipped laboratories and outmoded production facilities. The leaders of the Russian Academy of Sciences recognize that the country’s science and technology infrastructure is in need of technological resuscitation that will be slow in coming, particularly if they rely only on federal budgets for support of the massive upgrading effort. They understand the importance of paying greater attention to the entire innovation cycle, a process that extends far beyond basic research, beginning with identification of real market needs and concluding only when sales to paying customers are a sustainable reality. Meanwhile, they have begun to attract funds from wealthy Russians to support the research activities of particularly promising young scientific leaders, and several oligarchs support an annual prize of $1 million for science and technology achievements in the field of energy (heralded by the Russian government as the “Nobel Prize for Energy”).2 Even the painful task of systematically downsizing oversized research facilities is beginning as a few biophysics laboratories are singled out as standard bearers for the country (Allakhverdov and Pokrovsky, 2003). No government that is serious about globalization and the emergence of knowledge-based economies can afford to ignore developments in Russia. For decades, the United States has benefited from the achievements of Russian scientists and engineers, and future benefits are clearly in the offing. It is easy to understand the security arguments for engaging in cooperative programs Russian specialists who have weapons-related experience that might otherwise be directed to parties with hostile intentions. At the same time, the benefits that the United States can derive from bilateral research and development efforts in the civilian arena, while perhaps more difficult to appreciate, also can be profound. The academies in the two countries have an unusual opportunity to demonstrate the importance of cooperation in civilian science and technology. This is not an easy task, but, as we have seen, it is a challenge that can be met through projects that translate concepts into practical applications with near-term payoffs. The examples of ways in which scientific cooperation has cleared up misconceptions about the activities and intentions of counterparts across 2 Author interviews with the first Russian recipient of the energy prize and with the administrator of prizes contributed by Russian oligarchs for young scientists, June 2003.
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Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half-Century of U.S.-Russian Interacademy Cooperation the ocean are voluminous. Even a decade after the end of the cold war, scientific travelers in both directions regularly comment that they have improved their understanding of the opportunities and limitations in working together. Interacademy agreements and agreements of other nongovernmental organizations have provided opportunities for track-two diplomacy that provides venues for working together; but it is at the level of the individual scientists and engineers that this concept comes to life. They are in unique positions to address effectively the issues on the frontiers of science and technology that have tremendous political, economic, and security implications, and they can help to push the resolution of the issues in the direction of collaboration—not confrontation. Meanwhile, for decades both governments have considered the track-two efforts of scientific organizations to be important channels for gathering information that is openly available for the asking, for communication between intellectuals, for gaining insights into what works and what does not work in Russia, and for setting the stage for governmental programs. In a few sensitive areas, the governments maintain a tight leash on scientific interactions, but most of the early fears of the governments that exchanges would be routinely distorted for intelligence or propaganda purposes have disappeared. In a similar change in attitudes, scientists and engineers continue to be aware of the political differences dividing the two countries, but they are increasingly focused on the scientific benefits to be gained from cooperation before applying for their visitor visas. It is precisely this focus on high-quality science and technology that will help to ensure that track-two techno-diplomacy continues to receive broad support as both countries increasingly address the same economic and scientific challenges that face all countries. Peter the Great, the founder of the Russian Academy of Sciences, wisely predicted in 1724 that “science and education will determine Russia’s future.” Then several decades later, President Abraham Lincoln who signed the Act of Incorporation establishing the National Academy of Sciences, observed: “I know of nothing so pleasant to the mind as the discovery of anything that is at once new and valuable.” With common roots, shared purposes, and joint efforts, the Russian Academy of Sciences and U.S. National Academies have been and should continue to be a force for global peace and prosperity.3 3 For descriptions of the origins of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, see Statute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 1724–1999 (1999) and “Founding of the National Academy of Sciences” at www7.nationalacademies.org/archives/nasfounding.html.
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